The Drug Intravenous Organisation (better known as Divo) is a
nonprofit organisation working under the Ministry of Health
and is one of about 20 specialist outlets in New Zealand
selling new needles and syringes to drug users as part of a
national needle exchange programme.
It aims to reduce the transmission of blood-borne viruses and
infection rates by safely disposing of used needles and
syringes, and providing clean equipment.
Divo also offers information and advice about preventing the
transmission of blood-borne diseases as well as drug
addiction, safe sex and other health issues.
As part of a harm-reduction initiative, Divo and other
outlets eliminate the need for drug users to share needles
and syringes, or reuse equipment.
From 2004, users have been able to swap a used needle or
syringe for a free new one at Divo and other outlets.
New units cost about $1 on average.
Divo is confidential and anonymous, and protected from
government or police scrutiny by privacy and health
Manager Barb Smith says Divo is nationally unique because it
also offers a free weekly GP clinic and blood testing.
The outlet is also undertaking a trial of an on-site alcohol
and drug addiction counsellor.
Mrs Smith says staff do not condone illegal drug use but
accept it will continue, and endeavour to treat those who use
the service without judgement.
"It is about demystifying drug use. We operate with respect
and in the belief that human rights apply to everyone."
She says many people with drug issues are unwilling or unable
to get treatment, and there is a need to provide options that
minimise risk while protecting their rights.
To make users feel secure, people with personal experiences
of drug use are employed.
The peer-service model means staff can understand drug issues
and provide empathy.
"This has been essential in developing ongoing relationships
in an often hidden and hard-to-reach population," Mrs Smith
In Dunedin, the majority of those who inject drugs are
European males aged 35 years or older.
Prescription opioids including methadone and oxycontin
(oxycodone) are the most commonly injected drugs in Dunedin,
although ritalin is also widely used.
Mrs Smith cannot say how many people use Divo, to ensure
those who do feel protected, but she says the outlet has a
"very regular" clientele.
An estimated 60%-70% of injecting drug users in New Zealand
have hepatitis C.
Needle exchange sales have grown rapidly since 1994 and the
proportion of used needles and syringes returned for
destruction has risen from a national average of 26% to about
New Zealand has one of the lowest HIV infection rates among
injecting drug users in the OECD: about 0.5%.
As at 2006, national distribution of injecting equipment
exceeded 2 million units per annum, double the figure
pre-2004 when the free swap initiative was implemented.